Vietnam Road Rules explains how to stay alive during your Vietnam travel.
As Aussies (Australians) who have lived in Vietnam for several years we have come to realise just how dangerous the roads are. Many people we know (if not all!) have had an accident on the road. Some accidents have been very serious, even fatal. Above all, go slowly.
Vietnam Road Rules: The Pecking Order
This little summary explains who is king of the road and who has right of way. See also Tips and General Advice for navigating the roads at the bottom.
Trucks and buses are God. They own the road. They can be in the middle of the road, off the road, on your side of the road or coming on to the road. Wherever they are: always give way to these big guys because they will not give way to you.
Cars rule the roads but only when trucks and buses aren’t around.
Motorbikes are crafty little minxes that do everything in their power to make you have an accident. Beware of your motorbike. Just when you thought it was safe to accelerate on an empty road, a helmet, chair or some other flying debris will hit you.
If not, a pot-hole camouflaged as bitumen will upend you into the sky and straight into intensive care. Your bike will recover (just look at the clapped out vehicles in town) but you may not.
Electric bikes are fun but highly hazardous. These little buggers with their silence and speed are recipes for disaster – though I’ve never seen one in a collision. Maybe that’s because everyone avoids the silent type.
Bicycles are the equivalent of India’s untouchables. They are the lowest form of life on the road. Because, let’s face it: in a country where the horn is king, a ringy-bell doesn’t quite cut it.
Go carefully on these sad little excuses for transport and wear a helmet. And, if you want to get your own back on the big guys of the road, watch out for the 11am school kids who ride three and four abreast. They’ll show you how it’s done. They are Vietnam’s answer to passive aggression and I’m sure I’m not the only one who’d like to drive into those cute giggling little buggers and mow them all down.
On road rage. It doesn’t exist here. Sometimes you’ll see it but not much. The tolerance of people puts us all to shame.
Crossing the road is easy. Step into the traffic. Start rotating your head 360 degrees and don’t stop. Move slowly. Never step back, never rush forward and if you just can’t muster the courage to take it on at all, grab the arm of the nearest 70-year-old Vietnamese – whether they want to come or not, stuff them – they’re living proof of people who know how to cross the road.
Special note on ‘the horn’ – the horn has a very specific purpose in Vietnam, it means: ‘stay put’. Yes, the Vietnamese love using it and I do too, now – but the horn is not a sign of anger. It simply means a maniac is behind you and as long as you hold your nerve and stay calm they won’t hit you. Swerve or get out of the way and this maniac will more than likely send you flying.
Road of the Road in Summary
Rule Number 1: DO NOT DRIVE FAST.
Rule Number 2: DO NOT DRIVE FAST!
Rule Number 3: REMEMBER THE FIRST TWO RULES.
And finally. guidance from one of the longest, long-term expats I’ve met:
‘Assume everyone on the road is trying to kill you.’
Tips and General Information About Navigating the Roads in Vietnam
While there are official traffic rules in Vietnam no-one appears to know them! Well at least they’re not enforced with the same rigour you see in the West. But that’s not to say there aren’t rules. There are.
So what should you be aware of?
Right of Way: bigger vehicles have right of way – always – as explained above. Trucks, buses, cars, motorbikes, bicycles in that order.
Helmets are compulsory.
No-one looks: No-one checks to see if the road is clear. This is one of the most confounding aspects of riding a motorbike in Vietnam.
Avoid busy times: traffic is at its worst during the rush hours of 8am and 5pm.
Eyes on the road ahead. If there is a collision, blame rests with the person behind. If the other driver stopped suddenly, or jumped out from the side, it doesn’t matter. You are in the wrong.
Check your brakes: you will at some point have to make an emergency stop. Make sure you can.
Turning across oncoming traffic: move slowly into the center of the road and shift over to the far left of the oncoming traffic before the intersection. Go slowly and steadily and keep moving. The Vietnamese are used to navigating around people so they will make way for you. If you wait till you get to the intersection they’ll assume you’re going straight ahead!